Wed, Jul 07, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Freedom House cites sovereignty woes

SURVEYThe rights watchdog identified political interference in Taiwan’s media as a matter for concern, while repression and corruption have worsened in China, it said

By Nadia Tsao  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

A report released by US rights watchdog Freedom House on Monday said that although many Taiwanese are in favor of improving economic and trade ties with China, critics believe the government has made concessions on sovereignty, that cross-strait policies have developed too quickly and that the process lacks transparency.

On Jan. 12, the Washington-based Freedom House released the political rights and civil liberties scores for its Freedom in the World 2010 survey. Taiwan’s political rights rating improved from 2 to 1, but its civil liberties rating dropped from 1 to 2.

The full version of Freedom in the World 2010 released this week includes individual country reports.

On Taiwan, the survey pointed to a number of worrying developments, including Taiwan’s refusal last year to grant a visa to Uighur dissident Rebiya Kadeer, Beijing’s continued hard-line position on the question of Taiwanese independence and the fact that China has more than 1,300 missiles aimed at Taiwan.

These factors have led some Taiwanese to fear that increasing economic and diplomatic dependence on China would put Taiwan in a straitjacket on issues that Beijing regards as sensitive.

Last year, Taiwan ratified two important UN conventions — the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights — but in June last year, the UN declined to validate Taiwan’s ratification.

This was a reminder that the UN recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the sole representative of China, including Taiwan, the report said.

In its assessment of media freedom in Taiwan, Freedom in the World 2010 identified placement of information by the government as a major problem.

It also raised concerns about political interference in personnel changes in some state-owned media, such as the appointment of a government spokesperson as vice president of Central News Agency (CNA) soon after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) came into office in 2008.

CNA employees, the report said, received instructions to alter the content of some reports to dilute criticism of the government.

The survey said that following the 2008 purchase of a majority stake in the China Times Group by Want Want chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), a businessman with commercial interests in China, a number of developments occurred that give cause for concern.

The editorial board came under pressure to tone down criticism of the Ma administration and of Beijing.

Also, in June last year, the China Times Group threatened to sue reporters and freedom of the press advocates after they criticized the group during its conflict with the National Communications Commission.

Last year, legislation requiring government approval of Public Television Service programming was dropped after public protests, the report says.

However, local press freedom advocates and the Control Yuan criticized subsequent government measures to expand the service’s board and replace its management.

There are generally no restrictions on the Internet, which was accessed by more than 65 percent of the population last year, it said.

Although Taiwanese educators can generally write and lecture freely, Freedom House said, the ability of academics to engage in political activism outside the classroom came under pressure last year.

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